AIR RAIDS ON HARWICH WW2
HARWICH BLITZ CHRONICLE
Harwich Naval Base was important during the Second World War. The port was requisitioned by the Admiralty and it was used for the repair and maintenance of RN ships. In addition to RN vessels, there were ships of the Free Polish, Free Czech and Free French Navies stationed here after the fall of those countries.
Parkeston Quay too was used by the navy; the merchant fleet belonging to the railway was requisitioned. Harwich Naval Base was used as a base for minesweepers and its destroyers protected the east coast convoys supplying the ports of N.E. England.
Under the Nore Command, nine destroyers of the 19th Destroyer Flotilla operated from Harwich. Later in the war, 16th Destroyer Flotilla operated from the base. Patrol vessels such as HMS Kittiwake (L30/K50), of Kingfisher Class, patrolled "E-Boat alley", defending the coast from the scourge of German E-Boat ("Schnell Boot") coastal raiders.
The importance of Harwich base was limited however; it played no part in Atlantic convoy protection or the Arctic Convoys. This was reflected in the Luftwaffe's strategic plan. This might have been the reason why the Germans relied, in part, upon the Italian Air Force. The Regia Aeronautica Italiana, however, appeared to be reluctant allies.
I am indebted to the monumental three-volume work Blitz Then And Now, edited by Winston G. Ramsey and published by Battle of Britain Prints International Ltd. 1987.
I also acknowledge my indebtedness to Leonard Weaver's concise chapter on Harwich during the Second World War in The Harwich Story, published by I.J. Double 1997.
At this stage the following chronicle of events is deficient in details regarding loss of life, injuries and damage to property in Harwich as a result of the bombing 1939-44. It is hoped that residents of Harwich and the surrounding towns and villages will read the chronicle and be compelled to offer anecdotal material to enhance the study. The following, therefore, should be regarded as a "springboard" for further research.
The chronicle begins in September 1939 during that period in history known as The Phoney War (in Germany, "Sitzkrieg"). The textbook dates encompassing The Phoney War are: from the declaration of war on the 3rd September 1939 to the panzers rolling across the borders of Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg on the 10th May 1940. But the first eight months were certainly not phoney to the sailors serving on the all too important convoys. There was nothing phoney about the sinking of the aircraft carrier HMS Courageous, the sinking of HMS Royal Oak with a huge loss of life, the air raids on Rosyth and elsewhere, the Battle of the River Plate and the subsequent scuttling of the German pocket battleship Graf Spee. We must not forget the German invasion of Denmark and Norway on the 9th April 1940. For my uncle, who was in the rearguard of the retreating British forces and later suffered Stuka attacks when he reboarded his ship, The Phoney War was anything but phoney. However, the Norwegian campaign can and should be seen as the moment when The Phoney War ended. When Hitler launched Operation Sea Lion in August 1940 against The British Isles, only one aspect of the German Blitzkrieg (the tactics of which were rather more ad hoc than is generally believed) could be utilised. With the absence of tanks, artillery and infantry, only the first shock wave of Blitzkrieg - air power - was launched, initially against RAF Fighter Command. But as Hitler's invasion seemed to have failed and his panzers turned eastwards, and as less bombs were being dropped, Britain became a little more relaxed about the spectre of invasion. But in 1944 Harwich witnessed Hitler's new "vengeance weapons".
Harwich was within RAF Fighter Command 11 Group, Sector E - North Weald. 11 Group was under the command of Air Vice Marshall K.R. Park from April to December 1940 (succeeding AVM R.E. Saul) and bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe's attacks during The Battle of Britain. The RAF fighter stations within this sector were: North Weald; Stapleford; Debden; Martlesham.
For the people of Harwich the war started in September 1939...
SEP. 13: The inhabitants of Harwich and Clacton were disturbed about the floodlighting of Dovercourt and Butlin's internment camps. The Regional Commissioner considered the complaints.
NOV. 18: Because of a report of an unidentified aircraft, HMS Ganges set off its air raid sirens at 11.40. People were warned "to take cover" but the "all clear" was sounded a few minutes later.
NOV. 21: Objects like "sailors kitbags suspended by parachutes" were being dropped by aircraft. H.M. Destroyer Gipsy had the misfortune to collide with one of these German magnetic mines and was sunk with the loss of 32 lives. The Gipsy was later beached and salvaged. By the description of like "sailors kit bags" we can identify the type of mine used at this time. It is the earliest magnetic mine used by the Germans and is designated Mk. I, Type GA. It was fortuitous that one of these mines was dropped in the Thames Estuary in November 1939 and did not detonate. The British found the easiest way to deal wth them. They did, in fact, have an oversensitive fuze mechanism which made it comparatively easy to minesweep.
APR. 23: A German aircraft spotted flying off Harwich was fired upon by AA guns.
APR. 30: An He III H-4 of 3/KGr126 crashed in Clacton-on-Sea at 23.50. Approximately fifty houses were damaged, four of which were completely destroyed. Casualties were two people killed and 156 injured. Public morale, however, was reported as "excellent". This incident marked the first civilian casualties of the war on British soil. Mr. Frederick Gill and his wife Dorothy were killed in Orchard House, 25 Victoria Road. The Heinkel bomber was hit by AA fire while dropping mines near Bawdsey (near the top secret radar station). Apparently the Harwich AA battery hit the underside of the aircraft. It seems that the pilot attempted to crash-land on open ground but the bomber suffered control failure. The residents likened the series of explosions (including the machine gun ammunition) to Guy Fawkes Night.
MAY 11: An unidentified aircraft was reported flying north to south over Harwich. Harwich's AA battery fired about eight rounds. The aircraft passed over the sea between Clacton and Walton. No bombs were dropped and no air raid sirens were sounded.
MAY 16: During a stormy night it was falsely reported that Harwich had been bombed.
MAY 19: A number of reconnaissance aircraft were reported flying over Harwich.
JUN. 2: As a consequence of the possibility of bombing and the threat of invasion, a train left Harwich Station with pupils and teachers from local schools. It was destined for the safety of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. The Local Defence Volunteers (later to be renamed the Home Guard) prepared to repel the expected invaders.
JUN. 4: A barrage balloon at Harwich was hit by a British aircraft at 02.50. The balloon's cable fell to the ground and the aircraft crashed. The Hampden (P43445) of 144 Squadron was based at Waddington. It was hit by the Harwich AA battery. The aircraft then gave the correct recognition signal and the battery ceased firing. Searchlight EF25 attempted to illuminate the nearby balloon but to no avail. The Hampden struck the balloon's cable and crashed into the dock at Felixstowe. All the crew were killed: Wing Commander J. Watts; Pilot Officer J. Andrews; Sgt. R. Jolly, DFM.
JUL. 1: An He III of 3/KG4, based at Amsterdam/Schiphol, crashed into the sea off Hull. The dinghy containing the four-man crew was picked up by the Black Swan ship and landed at Harwich.
JUL. 12: An He III-H2 of 8/KG53, based at Lille, was shot down by aircraft of 17 (Hurricane) Sqn. , from Debden, during an attack on Convoy "Booty" at 09.00. The observer of the Heinkel, Helmut von Brucke, died of his wounds and was buried off Harwich near Bawdsey Buoy.
JUL. 29: A convoy off Harwich was dive-bombed, possibly by Stukas, during the afternoon. No casualties recorded. Because of huge losses, the Luftwaffe withdrew their Stukas from the campaign around about August 1940. They were "sitting ducks" without adequate fighter protection.
AUG. 4: Leaflets with Hitler's Reichstag Speech, "A Last Appeal to Reason" were dropped over Britain at this time. Some of the leaflets were dropped near Harwich on this day. Apparently these were regarded as useful toilet paper !
AUG. 31: Hurricane crashed on Walton Beach. Pilot killed. In the Battle of Britain Museum at Hendon there is a recovered Hurricane. The aircraft, P3175, joined No. 257 Sqn. on 9th August 1940. The fate of this Hurricane can be found in 257 Sqn records. The account is as follows: "08.35,31.8.40 Hurricanes scrambled from Martlesham to patrol Debden-Clacton area. At 15,000 ft. they encountered a formation of JU 88s escorted by Messerschmitt 110s near Clacton. Pilot Officer G.H. Maffit flying Hurricane P3175 in Green 2 position was seen to be flying slightly behind when a head-on attack was carried out on the Bf 110s which immediately formed a defensive circle. One Bf 110 was seen to attack Maffit from above and behind and the Hurricane fell into a steep dive. It recovered at 5,000 ft. then went out of control and crashed 400 yds off Walton Beach, in an inverted dive. Pilot Officer Maffit attempted to bale out at 400 ft. but his parachute did not open and his body was found near the wreck of the Hurricane."
SEP. 2: Harwich was bombed, but not severely. No other information available.
SEP. 7: German reconnaissance flights over Harwich. An He III was possibly hit by A.C. Cochrane of 257 (Hurricane) Sqn. from Martlesham. The Heinkel bomber ditched into the sea off Harwich at 18.00. Three crewmen were captured and the remaining two were reported missing, presumed drowned.
SEP. 30: Possible minelaying by German aircraft off Harwich. No other information available.
OCT. 6: Daylight attacks by German aircraft. Slight damage to houses in Harwich.
OCT. 13: Minelaying reported off Harwich.
OCT. 19: A few bombs dropped on Shotley causing slight damage.
OCT. 25: First air raid on Harwich by aircraft of Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) based in Belgium. This was a night raid.
OCT. 26: Body of Josef Eberle, pilot of Bf109E-4 of 9/JG54 (fighter sqn.) and based at Evreux,was washed up near Harwich. Pilot Officer Lock and Pilot Officer Walker of 41 Sqn. (equipped with Spitfires based at Hornchurch) claimed the kill on Oct. 6.
OCT. 30: Minelaying was suspected off Harwich.
NOV. 10: Five aircraft believed to have dropped mines off Harwich.
NOV. 11: Two raids on a convoy off Harwich. Raids consisted of a formation of Italian bombers at 12,000ft., escorted by fighters. Three RAF sqns. intercepted and brought down eight bombers and five fighters. One bomber and five fighters were damaged. A Fiat CR42 (MM5701) of 95 Squadriglia, 18 Gruppo, 56 Stormo was damaged by Hurricanes of 46 Sqn. (from North Weald) and 257 Sqn. over the convoy off Harwich. The fighter crash-landed on the beach at Orfordness, Suffolk. A Fiat CR42 (MM6976) of 85 Sqd., 18 Gruppo, 56 Stormo was damaged by Hurricanes of 46 and 257 Sqns. and this crash-landed at Corton Railway Station in Lowestoft.
MID-NOV: Bombers of the Italian Air Force launched attacks over four nights with Harwich being the main target.
NOV. 17-18: A small force of Italian bombers attempted a raid on Harwich. No further information available.
NOV. 20-21: A small bombing force of Italian aircraft were dispatched to Ipswich and Harwich. The force consisted of twelve Fiat BR20 bombers. The crews claimed to have dropped 36 SC100 and 24 SC50 HE bombs on Harwich. Explosions were reported and one aircraft was reported overdue at its Belgian airfield.
NOV. 21-22: Attacks on convoy off Harwich.
NOV. 23-24: Aircraft of Luftwaffe IX Fliegerkorps laid mines off Harwich.
NOV. 27-28: AA battery in action in Harwich. There were 2x3.7" anti-aircraft guns deployed in Harwich/Dovercourt, rising to four in 1942. From 1942 these guns were radar guided (GL Mk II radar). 53 and 121 Regiments, Royal Artillery operated them. In March 1942 the site was complemented with anti-aircraft rockets. In addition there were lighter and more mobile Bofors guns deployed around the area.
DEC. 1940: The Italian Air Force had been deployed to Belgium in October. They had contributed little to Operation Sea Lion. Up to the end of December the bombers had flown 97 sorties with the loss of but three aircraft. In night ops., totalling 77 sorties, they had dropped 44.87 tonnes of bombs, most of them on Harwich and to a lesser degree, on Ipswich.
DEC. 2-4: Limited mine-laying by the Luftwaffe off Harwich.
DEC. 4-6: Minelaying between Lowestoft and Harwich.
DEC. 5-6: Harwich AA battery in action.
DEC. 11-12: Small-scale Luftwaffe sweeps with fighters and reconnaissance aircraft at about 17.40 over Harwich.
DEC. 13-14: Eleven Italian bombers attempted to bomb Harwich but were intercepted by Fighter Command.
DEC. 15-16: Harwich AA battery in action.
DEC. 21-22: Harwich AA battery in action.
DEC. 27-28: Minelaying off Harwich.
JAN. 4-5: Harwich AA battery in action.
JAN. 9-10: Minelaying off Harwich.
JAN. 15-16: Minelaying off Harwich. Harwich AA battery in action.
JAN. 19-20: Minelaying off Harwich. Harwich AA battery in action.
JAN. 29-30: Harwich AA battery in action.
FEB. 20-21: Bf110E-1 of 3/Erprobungsgruppe 210, based at Denain, crashed into the sea off Harwich during a raid on that town at 11.25. The twin-engined fighter/reconnaissance aircraft was shot down by AA guns onboard HM Minesweeper Bramble. Erprobungsgruppe 210 was a Luftwaffe experimental unit using fighters in a shallow dive bombing and machine gun/cannon role (as opposed to the Stuka steep dive bombing method) -termed "jabos". There is evidence that these aircraft launched at least one raid on the ordnance factory on Bramble Island.
FEB. 25: "Hill Crest", a house in Beacon Hill Ave destroyed. Tagg's General Stores and Hairdressers in Grafton Road suffered a direct it at 22.08. Five people were killed as a consequence of this raid. In addition, houses were damaged in Park Road and Main Road.
MAR. 4-5: Harwich AA battery in action.
MAR. 7-8: Bf110 of 2/Erprobungsgruppe 210 was shot down, presumably by AA guns onboard HMS Guillemot, during a raid on Harwich. The aircraft crashed into the sea off Harwich.
MAR. 8-9: Harwich AA battery in action. From around this time on - until the V Weapon attacks (apart from minor campaigns such as the "Baby Blitz" at the beginning of 1944) - the bombing was sparse. Any thought of an invasion of Britain was "shelved" and Hitler planned his invasion of the Soviet Union - "Operation Barbarossa". In fact The Battle of Britain and Operation Sea Lion effectively terminated in October 1940 as a consequence of the Luftwaffe's huge losses.
MAR. 11-16: Harwich AA battery in action.
MAR. 18-20: Harwich AA battery in action.
MAR. 20-21: A single aircraft bombed Harwich.
APR. 4-5: Harwich AA battery in action.
APR. 8-11: Harwich AA battery in action.
MAY 3-4: Luftwaffe attack on Harwich.
MAY 3: "Haverholme" on Main Road, Harwich destroyed. Nos. 18-20 Cliff Road destroyed. There were fatalities. A woman was discovered alive after a ten-hour search. Two days later a body of a woman was found amongst the debris. In addition Una Road in Parkeston was hit.
May 8-9: Casualties in Harwich from recent bombing. Bernards' uniform factory was destroyed. However, uniform production commenced at another location and a new factory was built five months later.
MAY 15-16: Damage and casualties in Harwich from bombing.
MAY 17: Ordnance buildings in Main Road, Harwich destroyed by landmine. The roofs of nearby houses were allegedly seen to rise and fall back in place. In recent years workmen reported many loose bricks in these houses. The bomb was dropped at 4.00 a.m. Two deaths are recorded and much ARP equipment was destroyed. Buildings about a mile away suffered broken windows and many buildings in the streets nearby suffered structural damage. the Salvation Army Citadel and the Cash Boot Repair Company were severely damaged.
JAN. 17: A Do217E-2 of 8/KG2, based at Cambrai or Saint-Leger, presumed shot down by AA guns onboard HMS Walpole and by a Havoc II bomber. The Dornier bomber crashed into the sea off Harwich at 17.40.
FEB. 1942: In an attempt to counter constant German minelaying and provide an offshore defence, a number of fabricated anti-aircraft forts, called Maunsell Forts after their designer, were erected in estuaries and offshore. The first of these, HM Fort Rough, was set in place 10 miles offshore between Felixstowe and Harwich in Feb. 1942. Armament on these forts comprised of 3.7 in. anti-aircraft guns, Bofors anti-aircraft guns and .303 in. Lewis machine guns. These towers supplemented onshore radar stations and proved to be very effective in defence against German mine-laying aircraft and in locating the positions of mines layed. RN minesweepers would then dispose of these.
FIRST WEEK OF JUNE 1942: A raid on Harwich was prevented by its balloon barrage.
JAN. 6: Mablethorpe, Ramsey and Harwich reported incidents (bombings) with nine killed.
OCT. 5: An He III H-16 was engaged in air-launching a V1 "doodlebug" (an experiment, found to be unsuccessful, to render the V1 more accurate) when it developed an engine failure and ditched. The bomber was from 8/KG3 and it plunged into the sea off Gt. Yarmouth. One survivor, Obergefr. H. Muller, was found in his one-man dinghy and landed at Harwich.
OCT. 10: Wreckage from a V2 fell over Harwich Harbour. Three V2s had been launched from Rijs and one exploded at approximately 8,000ft. A large double explosion was heard on the ground and some debris including the engine plunged into shallow water at Landguard Point, Felixstowe. The warhead from this V2 can still be seen from Gashouse Creek. Note: the V2, and indeed the V1, were not a strategic success. Comparatively few were launched and in no way matched the degree of destrucion and accuracy that the Allied bombing offensive wrought upon German cities. The development of the V weapons cost more than the development of atomic bomb. Hitler would have been better served by the building of a long range bomber force to match that of the Allies. The technological advances acheived by German scientists and engineers was irresistible. It was the psychological effect of such weapons that instilled such fear. The subsequent post-war development of the V2 with nuclear warheads is it's true legacy. UPDATE: 30th March 2012 - the wreckage in Harwich mud-flats has been excavated by Navy divers. The V2's nozzle assembly and part of the combustion chamber have been uncovered. I suspect, therefore, that the double explosion recorded on 10th October was in fact the warhead itself detonating prematurely. There were a total of 1402 V2s targeted on Britain from September 1944: 1358 on London; 43 on Norwich; 1 on Ipswich. Many of them detonated prematurely after re-entry, what the Germans termed "luftzerleger". A possibility was an excess of pressure in the alcohol-water tank. Eighty V2s were modified with strengthening of the forward end of the rocket cladding but all V2s, modified and unmodified, were used. As the record of V2 launches has been well documented, the relic is almost certainly from the V2 reported as exploding over Harwich on 10th October 1944.
That is the final entry as far as the chronicle stands at this moment in time. I would like to finish with a passage from Leonard Weaver's book, cited above:
"Miles of scaffolding along the shore cut off all access to the sea, and it was not until 1943, when the danger had passed, that civilians were allowed to pass through a gap for a swim...Civilian casualties were far fewer than had originally been expected. Hundreds of high explosives and incendiary bombs fell on the borough, and hundreds more fell in the sea or mud, but only 10 lives were lost. The greatest damage was done by a new type of land mine which destroyed the old Ordnance Buildings and damaged about 700 others; but the biggest bomb, which was over ten feet and weighed more than a ton fell on what was allotment ground at the junction of Main Road and King George's Avenue and failed to explode. Among the heroes of the war were the men who dug out this bomb and rendered it harmless".
Martin Wakley (copyright)